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Lawsuits Filed Over Deaths in CVR Refinery Explosion

September 26, 2013, 2:19 pm

September 25th, 2013 – Houston, TX – On Wednesday morning, two lawsuits were filed in Fort Bend County, TX against CVR Energy Corporation and its related entities on behalf of Russell Mann and Billy Smith. These two workers were killed in the explosion at the CVR refinery in Wynnewood, OK on September 28th, 2012. The lawsuits allege that CVR was responsible in knowingly providing an unsafe workplace for its employees and that the company failed to properly maintain and upgrade its antiquated boiler system in order to save costs. The OSHA investigation reveals that CVR is a repeat violator of the OSHA workplace regulations for safety.

Smith and Mann were responsible for the start-up of an antiquated boiler, the Wickes steam boiler, which had previously been shut down for repairs. The boiler system, which was built in the 1950’s, does not have a Burner Management System (BMS) that would allow for the remote start-up of the boiler. CVR’s boiler system requires that employees manually light the boiler, the most dangerous task in the refinery, just as anyone would light a space heater in their home. This out-dated methodology defies industry standard but was kept in place by CVR to save money.

The attorney representing the families of Mann and Smith, Gary Riebschlager of Brent Coon & Associates, noted that this is not the first accident at the refinery that was due to the boiler system. “The CVR refinery has had problem after problem with their antiquated boiler system, but since updating that steam boiler would require the company to change its entire system, management has continually chosen to put its workers at undue risk by not updating the boiler in order to save money at a refinery that is already making $1 million a day. That its employees continue to be unnecessarily injured or killed is simply a cost of doing business at CVR.”

Riebschlager also notes that the antiquated boiler system at the refinery poses harm not only to the refinery workers, but the entire community. Because the system does not meet EPA standards, it emits a vast amount of harmful toxins that pollute the air, water and ground soil in Wynnewood and its surrounding areas. “It’s easy to see that Mr. Mann and Mr. Smith were victims of the boiler system, but the invisible long term harm the system imposes on the people within the community is equally real. As a public interest law firm, our goal is not just to recover damages for the families of the deceased, but to also facilitate change at the CVR refinery and mandate that it update all systems to comply with modern, current industry and environmental standards so that it is a safer place to work and so that Wynnewood is a safer place to live,” said Riebschlager.

Riebschlager and Brent Coon & Associates are no strangers to taking on the petrochemical industry and forcing change in legislation and workplace safety standards. Founder Brent Coon served as Lead Counsel in the litigation stemming from the 2005 refinery explosion at the BP plant in Texas City, TX. The explosion killed 15 workers and injured hundreds more. Coon reached a settlement with BP that forced the company to make public the seven million documents his firm had uncovered. As a part of the settlement, BP also agreed to contribute over $40 million dollars to various charities, organizations and educational institutions that focus on improving process safety within the petrochemical industry. Coon wrote and introduced to the Texas State Congress the “Remember The 15” bill, which sought new legislation to improve safety conditions throughout the industry.

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